Spotify playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1978
YouTube playlist : Top 40 Singles of 1978
I realised something, listening through every single ever to make the top 40 in 1978. Something I suppose I already knew but didn't really notice to any great degree. That is the comings and goings of genres. Having started in 1973 with these lists, I've heard the natural evolution of commercial popular music through the improvement in technology, the introduction of production techniques to make sounds not previously heard and the introduction of music and lyrics which represent everyday people. '78 was still a glittering landscape of luscious pop, real people playing real instruments and whistlable melodies but there were a few movements which defined the age. Disco was huge; to the point it had the Beach Boys and Johnny Mathis recording Disco songs in the vain hope of a top ten single. This is called selling out. I had a friend who hated people who sold out - she'd speak about it with this look on her face, like it was dirty and wrong. I don't care much if what they're doing is enjoyable - so what if someone who takes themselves too seriously suddenly appears on Big Brother? If you're about credibility and respect then by all means, continue making music for your diehard fans and missing the top 100 by about 200 places. If you're all about having a career that pays the bills then ring Stock Aitken and Waterman. By 1979 there was too much Disco around, too much shouty loud punk music. It was interesting to start with but soon got tedious. I understand that there were people who latched on to it, used it to cement their identity in society and some from that era still dress in ripped T-shirts and leather. It was just that about two in every five records released was either Disco or Punk. Trying to add another pebble to that huge beach and make it sound different was very difficult and only a few succeeded.
When Punk first arrived, as I say, it was interesting. People went and bought it. Two years later and punk wasn't cracking the top twenty any more. Things were changing and getting better - much much better in fact. Some of the tunes released in 78 are superb. You'll find quite a few songs in my top 40 you've never heard before but I urge you to give the playlist a spin - it'll improve your life by several percent.
(40) Dollar - Shooting Star
Before David Van Day was a complete douche, he was a decent popstar. Dollar were often dismissed as lightweight but they were every bit as enjoyable as Abba at times. This song is a wonderful piece of 80s pop, even though it's two years early. It got to number 12 and was the first of their ten hits.
(39) PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED - PUBLIC IMAGE
Hello? Hello! A true original, John Lydon. This was a great single - it did the punk thing with a difference. John had left the Sex Pistols by this point and formed a collective that could express his bursting creativity. This got to number nine and in my opinion at least, influenced U2's 'Boy' album. When PiL did stuff you could actually listen to, it was very good.
(38) Racey - Lay Your Love On Me
This first hit for Racey spent three weeks at number three in January. As a tiny person in 1978, I picked up on Racey because their singles had a distinctive sound that stuck in my head. They didn't sound like anything else I was aware of at the time so I gravitated towards it. They had a track called "Kitty" on their album "Smash And Grab". Toni Basil later picked up on the track, changed a it a bit, renamed it 'Mickey' and had a massive worldwide hit with it in 1982 reaching number 2. I don't much care for their 50's stylings or the girl doing the hand-jive sitting on a piano in the video. Although this has more in common with Showaddywaddy and Darts, it sounds like it has something in common with the 2 tone movement which was just around the corner.
(37) BLACK SABBATH - HARD ROAD
Whoops, how did this get in here? Probably because it's great and my predjudices have been put to one side for the moment. It's much better than Paranoid yet that's the track everyone associates with Black Sabbath. It has a very heavy Beatles influence (or maybe a John Lennon one?). This was eight years after Paranoid and just as they were getting good, Ozzy left. This only got to number 33 and shows you the difference between a great song and a great single. They're not necessarily the same thing.
(36) Elvis Costello - (I Don't Wanna Go To) Chelsea
Elvis Costello's second hit of four in 1978. This one peaked at number 16, one place short of his previous hit, "Watching The Detectives". I heard somewhere that Elvis had the most weeks on the chart of any artist who'd never had a number 1. He's always been a bit niche; like Squeeze and The Cure. Sort of popular but not really even though most of his music is intelligent and catchy. It just lacked something to make it appeal to the masses - but maybe he didn't really want to. I always felt there was a bit of Buddy Holly in his image but again, maybe that was intentional too?
This song was 'parodied' by 'Graduate' (the band that would become Tears for Fears), in their song 'Elvis should play ska'.
(35) PATTI SMITH GROUP - BECAUSE THE NIGHT
Patti was a pioneer. A bigger influence on the same people as Suzi Quatro had influenced four years previous. A huge influence on the lead singer of X-Ray Spex, who feature later on in the top 40 and you can see why. Written by Bruce Springsteen, this got to number 5 in April.
(34) The Bee Gees - Night Fever
Saturday Night Fever had taken over the consciousness of the parts of the world that had popular music as one if it's main pillars of society. The Bee Gees had 11 top 40 hits in the 70s but countless others with other artists singing songs they'd written. When you talk about a sound defining an era, the wah-wah guitar was their weapon of choice and they wielded it better than anyone. They managed to create a world through their music in the late 70s which we all felt safe in, felt happy in and wanted to look exactly like John Travolta in. Talk about 'Racey' coming up with a sound nobody else had managed and capturing my imagination, The Bee Gees made this sound up and anything else that came after it just sounded like a bad parody.
(33) Magazine - Shot By Both Sides
Brilliant!!! Even though the lead singer looks like what Robocop looks like when he takes his mask off near the end of the film. This only got to number 41... criminally missing out on the top 40 - should have been top 10 at least. Ignore the TOTP video version - go with the original Spotify one - the TOTP performance was one of those where the band had to come in that day and record a version of the song to mime to. The voice is too loud and he doesn't sing the chorus with the same intonation as the original. That aside, it's a must have on your playlist for grey monday mornings and is going straight on my personal best of the 70s list I'll do after my 1979 list.
(32) FOREIGNER - COLD AS ICE
Although every time this song starts it reminds me of the 'Neighbours' theme tune, it's still great. Bloody Foreigner, coming over here, stealing our ice. This got to number 24 and it wasn't until 1981 that they cracked the top 10 with 'Waiting for a girl like you' and then number 1 with 'I want to know what love is'. Their last hit was in 1985, a number 28 with 'That was yesterday'. Lou Gramm did have a solo career but never troubled the charts.
(31) MANFRED MANN'S EARTH BAND - DAVY'S ON THE ROAD AGAIN
It's lovely this isn't it? We see a welcome return of the 12/8 beat which has been notably missing in the charts the last few years. The Earth Band only had three hits but they were all brilliant. 'Joybringer' made my '73 list but their other one 'Blinded by the light' just missed this list. Check out the video on the playlist above; it's live and sounds exactly like the record but with a better keyboard solo and more emotion!
(30) Samantha Sang - Emotion
It's those pesky Bee Gees again! In February 1978, number 31, 32 and 33 were all Bee Gee-penned songs on the way up the chart. This track featured the Gibbs on backing vocals and was in the top forty for 12 weeks despite only reaching number 11. In fact, it might as well have been sang by the Bee Gees as Samantha's vocals get swamped in the chorus. One of a slew of 70s songs which were either re-relased or covered in the thirty years following. Just before it fell out of the top 40, there was another version of it in the charts, albeit on the B-Side of 'Too Much, Too Little, Too Late' by Johnny Mathis and Deniece Williams.
(29) CLOUT - SUBSTITUTE
A terrific pop record this, most enjoyable and very very 70s. This got to number 2 and was their only hit. Shame, they were one of the only woman bands around who played guitars, drums, bass, keyboards. Why is a debate for another time but suffice to say, 70s attitudes towards race, gender etc. are something we can quite happily leave in the 70s.
(28) GRAHAM PARKER AND THE RUMOUR - HEY LORD DON'T ASK ME QUESTIONS
Bits of Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, The Clash and John Lydon here. Entirely original though having said that, and a great single. Just reached 32 which shows what kind of competition there was around at the time.
(27) T.Connection - On Fire
Number 16 for this full force disco track. It's got a lot of Disco Inferno about it but before you think it's going to go there, it veers off and hits you with the synthy backing vocal with which to hook you to the chorus. Loads of 70s string motifs and plenty of different drum sounds coupled with a wasp synth, it's gonna get you!
(26) Abba - Take A Chance On Me
People wonder why ABBAs chart reign only lasted three years. It's simple enough, people had too much ABBA. This track was number one for three weeks but it was their last for ages - other things were happening in the pop world and they soon became old hat. It was two and a half years before they got there again. I like the Erasure version of this and Erasure's version of Voulez-Vous better than Abba's; no doubting their songwriting, musicianship and vocal performances but by the time we'd had the ABBA annuals, the merch and eventually, The Movie, we were all but done and had started to take notice of The Police and Kate Bush instead.
(25) ANDREW GOLD - NEVER LET HER SLIP AWAY
What a songwriter this bloke was. Everything he released was gold (pardon the pun). This got to number 5 and was his biggest hit. His memory was insulted by the godawful 'band' Undercover who only released covers. They got to number 5 with this song as well! Gold played on various other songs in the 70s (most notably Linda Ronstadt's) but he went on to form the band 'Wax' who had a number 12 in 1987 with 'Bridge to your heart'.
(24) Earth Wind And Fire - September
A classic in all senses of the word. Sparkly outfits and trombones with all wavy space effects in the video was bound to be a hit. The first of Earth Wind And Fire's three consecutive top five hits and also the biggest with a number three peak.
(23) Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street
I've never warmed to this song and I don't know why. I always thought it was a waste of a good sax solo. Listening to it now, I don't even like the sax solo. However, it's a classic that everyone on the planet in 1978 had heard so it's here at 21. It took six weeks in the chart to reach number 3 and after a full 12 weeks in the chart, people were getting sick of it. Strangely, the band I mentioned who covered Andrew Gold's 'Never let her slip away' covered 'Baker Street' in 1992 and managed to get one place higher than Gerry.
(22) Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights
I fell in love with Kate Bush in 1978. She was fascinating and this song was just the type of weird I needed in my life. She was a bit unhinged I thought, skitting about in a forest in a floaty dress and flowers on her head. In 1980 I went to one of my school friend's birthday parties and a woman who looked exactly like Kate Bush answered the door. I was convinced it was her; turned out to be my friend's mother. I spent the entire party staring at her and eating the cakes which she'd baked with actual money in them. I went home with about 25p that night. It was more money than I'd ever seen in my entire life. (Wuthering Heights spent four weeks at number one incidentally)
(21) JOHN TRAVOLTA AND OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN - YOU'RE THE ONE THAT I WANT
Grease was another omnipresent film in 1978 which also starred John Travolta. It was one of the first Vinyl LPs I 'owned' (it wasn't mine, not sure whose it was actually) and I used to play it over and over. This was just one of the songs from the film which got released as a single. This one got to number 1 in May. Morrissey got to number 19 in 1992 with a song called 'You're the one for me fatty'. Nothing to do with this song, I just wanted to tell you that.
(20) Earth Wind And Fire - Fantasy
More Earth Wind and Fire amazingness which only got to number 14. To have so many members, so many instruments to co-ordinate, to sound this good, must have taken such a long time in the studio. Bands these days don't book studio time, they turn up with tracks already mostly complete on their laptops. Just bask in the greatness of this song; music how it was meant to sound before the robots took over...
Black Box took their cover of this to number five in 1990.
(19) BUZZCOCKS - EVER FALLEN IN LOVE
Have you ever heard a song called Jilted John by Jilted John? The one that goes 'Gordon is a Moron'? Well, I'm yet to be convinced that the bloke who sang that (the same bloke who played 'John Shuttleworth') wasn't the lead singer of the Buzzcocks. Whilst this song is a bona fide classic, the singer sounds like one of those kids at school who would tell you your parents were poor and he lived in a castle in the country and owned a horse.
It sounded very punk but I don't think it was. It was too commercial. It got to number 12 but each of their next three singles peaked at a lower position than the last. Being an 80s officianado, I'll always prefer the Fine Young Cannibals version, which hit number 9 in 1987, however much the purists scream at me.
(18) THE POLICE - CAN'T STAND LOSING YOU
I'll tell you why this works. It's the first time a guitar has been used like that on a pop record. The drums are a main instrument, up front and centre and full of personality. The Police embraced their Reggae influence, most notably in the title of their first album. I've never thought Sting was a great vocalist but his voice suits The Police more than it does anything he ever did after that. It was angry and shouty with an edge which he completely lost in later years. I suppose we all calm down and mellow out in later life when we realise we can't fight the system, don't we?
(17) E.L.O. - Mr Blue Sky
A brilliant single from the hairiest pop star on the planet and in the 70s he had some competition. This was the first of three consecutive number 6 peaking records. The 'Out of the Blue' album spawned four hit singles (this never happened at the time) which showed how popular ELO had become after a slow slow start.
(16) Olivia Newton John - A Little More Love
Criminally missing from Spotify, you'll have to check out the YouTube playlist for this one. Riding on the back of her rise back to popularity through the movie Grease, this got to number 4. The producers employed that multiple voice falsetto that was so popular at the time on the chorus which was probably the best example of this production technique.
She'd been missing from the chart from 1974 until the summer of 77 when she hit number six with "Sam". 'You're the one that I want' had spent nine weeks at number 1 and that was followed by 'Summer Nights' which spent a further 7 weeks on top. Those two were with John Travolta but she had a solo hit with 'Hopelessly Devoted to You' on her own. EMI capitalised on that with 'A little more love' which spent nine weeks in the 40. What was weird about it's chart performance was that it's ninth week was at 16 and the following week it disappeared.
(15) Rod Stewart - Do You Think I'm Sexy
No Rod, I really don't. However, Rod is the original 'move with the times' artist that Madonna proved to be as she jumped feet first into the 90s. From crooning cracked-throat ballads to gale force twelve disco - this was some transformation. Another artist who 'sold out'? Who cares, he looked like he was having fun and so did we with this fun uptempo romp. I actually think he was taking the michael a bit with this song; the lyrics are far from serious, couple that with his performance in those famous leopard print trolleys - I think his tongue was firmly in his cheek. This got to number one unsurprisingly. That lead synth at the beginning is hookier than velcro.
(14) FRANKIE VALLI - GREASE
Another song from the Grease soundtrack and another Bee Gees written hit. Just two weeks at number three for this, despite it being the title track to the movie. This was Frankie's most successful solo single though; he never troubled the charts again after this though.
(13) Bee Gees - Stayin' Alive
Talking of the Bee Gees, the brothers Gibb reached number four with this. I've just noticed that they were on the RSO label which also released the 'Grease' soundtrack. The B Side to this single was a song that just three months later was taken to number four by 'Yvonne Elliman' which appears in my top 10 of 1978. This song was made by the bass line, a very popular instrument in the 70s.
(12) RAYDIO - JACK AND JILL
Have a listen to the lyrics to this. It's an attempt to legitamise having an affair. Despite the horrible sentiment, this is a wonderful single. The hook here is the screech by the backing singers after each line of the chorus. It was written by Ray Parker Jr. (of Ghostbusters fame) who was the lead singer. He wrote a reply to this song from the point of view of Jill which had the line 'By the time poor Jack returned up the hill, somebody else had been loving Jill'.
I wonder where the Jacksons got the idea for 'Can you Feel it' though.
(11) Heatwave - The Groove Line
Another band in flares with fancy footwork in the vein of Earth Wind and Fire, but with a song which has so many great elements to it, it had to be a hit. The vocal is excellent, the bass line is sumptuous and the changes of pace, perfectly excecuted. It was written by Rod Temperton of 'Thriller' fame and you can tell. It reached number 12 here and shifted 2 million units in the US.
(10) OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN - HOPELESSLY DEVOTED TO YOU
What a lovely song. I saw Grease at the pictures when it first came out; we were in the front row - I would have been three and a bit years old but the film was a PG so armed with a Parent, I got in. My two enduring memories of the film when I originally watched it were of the hotdog chasing a bun around on the cinema screen behind John Travolta as he sang 'Sandy'. The metaphor of the hotdog leaping into the bun at the end of the song was lost on me for a good twelve years hence. The other was of Olivia Newton John singing in the garden in just a nightie. I just thought it looked really chilly. The song itself spent two weeks at number two and was Olivia's biggest solo single.
(9) THE JACKSONS - BLAME IT ON THE BOOGIE
When I started going to Nightclubs, especially those that had themes (like Tall Trees in Yarm), Disco was always the most popular type of night to have followed by an 80s night the following week. This was always played along with Dancing Queen and YMCA. We'd all be up doing the actions, making most of them up (I know the action for sunshine, good times and boogie, but not moonlight). This song was in the same chart at the same time by two different artists. Strangely, the original version by the original writer (Mick Jackson (not Michael Jackson, a completely different Jackson called Mick)) didn't fare very well. Mick got to 15, The Jacksons got to number 8. Don't feel too sorry for him though, the royalties from this song alone would have made him king of a small country. The same thing happened a year later; Mick released 'Married Men' the same time as Bonnie Tyler. She got to 35 and he didn't chart at all! The Jackson's version featured the first time I heard Michael do his 'Hee Hee' thing. He was finding his feet after a slow start to his solo career which he'd put on hold for about six years, only to explode in 1979 with Off The Wall.
BTW, we don't talk about Big Fun (RIP Music in 1989).
(8) ANDREW GOLD - HOW CAN THIS BE LOVE
I'm a sucker for a jolly ditty and this is the jolliest dittiest song in this countdown. This only got to number 19 but he remains the only Andrew to have a solo top 10 hit.
(7) Chaka Khan - I'm Every Woman
A number eleven placing for Chaka with her first hit. She then had to wait over five years before her next hit. And what a hit - Ain't Nobody was going to be offered to Michael Jackson for the Thriller album (by the writer) if the label didn't release it as a single for Chaka and Rufus. The label relented and it hit number 1 on the Billboard 100.
(6) KATE BUSH - MAN WITH THE CHILD IN HIS EYES
This was most unexpected. How could the shrieking wailing Kate of Wuthering Heights bring her voice down to a level that cuddled your ears instead of sticking pencils in them, pointy end first? She was 13 when she wrote this. THIRTEEN!! I wrote a song about how much I liked pigeons at 13 which was just 'I like pigeons' repeated four or five times. She won an Ivor Novello award. I won some funny looks off the people at the bus stop. This got to number 6!
(5) JOHN PAUL YOUNG - LOVE IS IN THE AIR
I remember hearing this on the radio sitting in the back of a car. I started looking out of the window at the sky to try and see 'lovers in the air'. I imagined them to be like sacks of flour which could flap like birds wings and fly. I don't see the world much different to the way I did back then if I'm honest. JPY got to number 5 with this 'disco' song (I don't think it's disco at all but it was touted as such). There were three Paul Youngs knocking about at the time. There was John Paul Young, the Paul Young who was in Sad Cafe (and later, Mike and the Mechanics) and the Paul Young who was in Streetband and the Q-Tips who would go on to be one of the bestselling solo artists of the 80s.
(4) YVONNE ELLIMAN - IF I CAN'T HAVE YOU
This was taken from the 'Saturday Night Fever' soundtrack, which was naturally written by the brothers Gibb. Her first hit 'Love Me' was gorgeous, and also written by a Gibb (Barry). She was actually earmarked to record 'How deep is your love' because she'd showcased her ability to belt out a ballad. 'How Deep', 'Stayin' Alive' and 'Night Fever' all went to number 1. Elliman's effort was the fourth taken from the soundtrack and hit number 4. Yvonne was very dismissive of the song in later years, giving an indication as to why she didn't 'strike while the iron was hot' with a follow-up single. She didn't much care for Disco (like a lot of people by the time 1979 rolled around) and wanted to sing stuff that suited her husky voice. She didn't release any singles from her subsequent album! Kim Wilde took her version to number 12 in 1993.
(3) BONEY M - RIVERS OF BABYLON/BROWN GIRL IN THE RING
The first contemporary songs I ever remember hearing were in 1978 and this sticks out in my memory. I was with my family in a fish and chip shop somewhere like Scarbrough (or similar seaside town in Yorkshire) and this was on the radio. Again, the Boney's talent for making nursery rhyme-like songs marketable for a chart performance was in full effect here. Rivers of Babylon was at number 1 for five weeks then started to fall and ended up at number 18. Then, possibly at the behest of the record label, DJs flipped the record and started to play 'Brown Girl in the Ring' (which is actually a nursery rhyme sang by children in the eastern Carribean). The single went back up into the top 10 for nine weeks, staying at number 2 for a week. The 'Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring' single is the sixth best-selling single of all time in the UK with sales of 2 million
(2) X-RAY SPEX - THE DAY THE WORLD TURNED DAY-GLO
Remember Patti Smith? Whatever she did for women in music, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex did in the UK probably twenty fold. John Lydon didn't like anything back then (or at least he would tell us everything was awful) but he was extremely complimentary about this. It's a song about plastic, disposable society, the real world and how evil it is (a long time before Greta Thunberg got involved). Not just that but watch the video in the playlist. Poly has presence, attitude, an identity; she's fascinating, her voice is ridiculous and the song is one you can stick on repeat for as many listens as you can manage. Gives me goosebumps every time. There's a fascinating documentary on Poly here - she sadly lost her battle with cancer in 2011.
(1) Village People - YMCA
No introduction needed; this single had a three week stint at number two to close 1978. It then began 1979 with three weeks at number one. It was the first and biggest hit for the Village People and spent 13 weeks on the 40. It's another song to suffer from overplay, but what the hell, we all love flinging our arms around trying to make the letters 'Y', 'M', 'C' and 'A'. I tried the same thing with D.I.S.C.O. and dislocated both shoulders.